Spitting, shoving, racial epithets -- aviation workers want action on air rage

  • American Airlines flight attendant Terry Andrews says passengers are "becoming furious and enraged because you ask them to do simple things," like wearing a mask during the pandemic.

    American Airlines flight attendant Terry Andrews says passengers are "becoming furious and enraged because you ask them to do simple things," like wearing a mask during the pandemic. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • United Airlines flight attendant Yolanta Fisher says unruly and sometimes violent passengers have created "a fear of coming to work every day."

    United Airlines flight attendant Yolanta Fisher says unruly and sometimes violent passengers have created "a fear of coming to work every day." Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

  • Airline workers -- Susan Wroble, of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, from left, Corliss King, with the union representing Southwest Airlines flight attendants, Scott Pejas, with the union representing United Airlines flight attendants, and Roger Phillips with the union representing United Airlines pilots -- discuss air rage at an event Wednesday at the O'Hare Hilton.

    Airline workers -- Susan Wroble, of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, from left, Corliss King, with the union representing Southwest Airlines flight attendants, Scott Pejas, with the union representing United Airlines flight attendants, and Roger Phillips with the union representing United Airlines pilots -- discuss air rage at an event Wednesday at the O'Hare Hilton. Marni Pyke | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/29/2021 7:21 PM

Snipes such as "stupid" and "uneducated" are hardly the worst insults that have been hurled at United Airlines flight attendant Yolanta Fisher during the pandemic.

Passenger rage hit a new low recently when a disruptive mom flying to Hawaii with three kids called Fisher something in Polish that loosely translates as "dumpster trash," after she asked the family to wear their seat belts.

 

"There's a constant degrading of who we are," said Fisher following a Wednesday Chicago Federation of Labor Air Rage Town Hall held by the CFL's Airport Labor Committee.

"You can't take things personally all the time, but there's a fear of coming to work every day."

Reports of unruly passengers on flights this year have reached 4,498, Federal Aviation Administration data showed Wednesday, and nearly 73%, or 3,274, were related to wearing masks to prevent COVID-19 infections. The federal government requires masks on flights and in airports.

The FAA has initiated 808 investigations, which is more than double the total for 2020 and 2019, with more than $1 million in fines imposed.

American Airlines flight attendant Teddy Andrews testified before Congress last week about being called a racial epithet multiple times by a passenger who refused to wear a mask.

"In March of 2020, I contracted COVID-19 and nearly died, so to me the mask mandate is personal as well as about safety," Andrews said Wednesday during the event at the O'Hare Hilton. Passengers are "becoming furious and enraged because you ask them to do simple things. Something has to be done at the federal level."

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Numerous Chicago union members representing flight attendants, pilots, baggage handlers, mechanics and customer service agents called for tougher enforcement by the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI, saying that the pandemic has brought out a dark side in some customers.

They also sought placing unruly passengers on a no-fly list to be shared among airlines and made public. In addition, workers appealed to airline executives to back up employees when they've been harassed.

"We're tired and we're worn out with having to come to work and be faced with a constant and increasingly hostile environment," said Susan Wroble of Wheaton, representing the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

At 30,000 feet, "we don't have the luxury of having the FBI and police on board," said United pilot Roger Phillips with the Air Line Pilots Association. "We are the security and on the front line are the flight attendants. We're literally asking the government to legislate behavior -- it's crazy we've gotten to the point where we're having this discussion."

American Airlines customer service agent Carolyn Marsalek, a representative of CWA Local 4201, spoke of a fellow worker who was shoved into a podium at O'Hare International Airport by an irate passenger.

"People do crazy things every day," she said. "I think the worst thing is when people spit at the agents, and that's really degrading."

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